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Jean-Michel Prima - 15/05/2017

Software for debating and voting

Open Agora : Olivier Bache, Christophe Morvan et Benoit Masson Open Agora : Olivier Bache, Christophe Morvan and Benoit Masson

Launched in Rennes as part of research carried out at Inria and Université Paris Est Marne-la-Vallée, Open Agora offers tools for businesses and local authorities to organise consultations that include voting.

A million paying users. This is Slack’s new record. Created four years ago in the United States, this project management tool makes it possible to organise large-scale collaborative work. Greatly appreciated by business, it replaces e-mail, which is often considered less productive. In the wake of this success, third-party companies have now been developing a stream of applications offering additional functions.

One of these tools is developed by Open Agora , a new startup on the scientific campus of Beaulieu, in Rennes. “Our software module makes it possible to vote to take a decision, ” sums up Christophe Morvan, the researcher behind the project. It is not one of those polling scripts that you see every day on the internet.
“What stands out in our product is the Condorcet voting system. Our system provides the solution that has the widest consensus. For example, among propositions A, B, C and D, solution C is the one that satisfies the most people because many made it their first choice, a good number named it second, etc. Thus, overall, it is the solution that most satisfies the voters. This system is more nuanced and more subtle than what is currently available on the market.”
Tested for eighteen months, an initial free version of the Open Agora application was immediately embraced by the public. “Fifty thousand people have used our application. We have approximately 6,000 regular users. We’re seeing between 50 and 100 surveys per day, with the number of individual votes on the order of 500 persons. We’ve even had a single user carry out more than thirty surveys the same day, each one with around a hundred voters. ” The free version will still to be available, but we’ll be adding a premium product that will cost around two euros per month per voter.
“For us, this application in Slack was initially an experimental tool,” explains Benoît Masson, technical director. The goal was to validate interest for a Condorcet system in a business context. In the next phase, we plan to benefit from this experience by also producing tools outside the Slack ecosystem. We would like to work on complete turnkey platforms.

Who are these new platforms intended for? “A certain number of companies which, by their nature, express a need for democracy and internal debate, ” explains Christophe Morvan. “This is the case for banks and mutual insurance companies, or firms that are cooperative in nature. More generally, we’re having discussions with companies in the social and solidarity economy. We get positive feedback. We’re in the process of finalising our tool so that they can test it.

Software programs for organising large consultations are also of interest to “regional authorities seeking greater democracy in their functioning. A certain number of initiatives in this direction are occurring all over France. One of the best-known examples is that of the  Fabrique Citoyenne de Rennes. ” In 2016, more than 11,000 voters in Rennes came out in support of a participatory budget which distributed €3.5 million to some forty projects that they chose among more than 200 proposals. A bike path, a kiss and ride in front of a metro station, a perch for swallows in the municipal park, etc.
“We are going to offer local authorities a platform completely tailored to their specific needs, ” assures Olivier Bache, Product Director. “It will include functionalities such as mapping, for example. We will also implement a certain number of technologies not only for voting, but also to organise a discussion with an exchange of viewpoints. ” Tools that “help human groups cultivate collective intelligence.

Technology transfer

The technology products of Open Agora rely on several research results. “Our voting system was developed as part of my work at Université Paris-Est in Marne-la-Vallée, ” explains Christophe Morvan. “To organise discussion spaces, our platform uses the active workspaces system. It is the product of work done by the Sumo team at the Inria Rennes centre by Eric Badouel, Loïc Hélouët and myself. This second part involved further development work by Olivier Bache and was funded by Inria. We’ve also decided to continue to work with this research team.

Keywords: Vote INRIA Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique Start-up Open Agora Christophe Morvan